The greatest test of the separation of church and state we may see in our lifetime said the news piped round the world paraphrasing eloquent words of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in response to a construction proposal intent upon placing a Muslim community center 2 blocks from ground zero. Tempers flared as hurdle after hurdle was struck down for the organizers of the Islamic cultural center project; New Yorkers commented have your mosque but have it somewhere else and equated approval of the project to spraying swastikas all over the place. Supporters claim it is not a mosque but a community center with a pool and other sports facilities, a prayer room as well as a museum modeled after local icons like the 92nd street Y; while opponents are being painted as intolerant bigots who have let the pain and hate of 9-11 fester. Questions remain surrounding what is really going on here, on both sides, what the motivations are for each group and why officials appear so accepting of the idea, but the battle lines are clearly drawn, from the media’s point of view between clinging to the past or reaching for the future. Or is it a struggle between tolerance and hate?
However none of what is happening has to do with the separation of church and state, religious freedom or tolerance; it has to do with honoring the dead, respecting the surviving and deceased victims, all victims families. It has to do with poor taste and sensitivity; no one is saying don’t practice Islam, no one is saying don’t be Muslim, no one is saying you can’t have a mosque, they are saying please don’t put it here. An Iranian American woman, who lost her mother on 9-11, voiced her fear that this mosque, community center, Muslim version of a YMCA, whichever title people choose to use, will not be a place of tolerance but will turn a place for honoring the sacred into a battle ground for religious ideology. And it seems she is absolutely correct considering the project coordinators have yet to raise funds for the center, ground has not even been broken on the site and the outcry is that strong. Critics of the public’s, especially New Yorkers’, current opinions say the resistance to building the structure is based on emotion not logic; of course it is, as it should be, because it is a very emotional issue. We would all be uncomfortable, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity with, at least, the symbolism of local KKK headquarters so close to a black church or the local chapter of the Arian brotherhood in close proximity to a synagogue; when the Carmelite nuns wanted to build a nunnery at Auschwitz the reining pope persuaded them to change the location out of respect for it’s heinous history. What is happening in New York is no different.
In fact it appears that the backers of the proposal are courting controversy, playing the tolerance card while simultaneously looking for a social, political fight almost as a way to point to America and prove it is as bad as the Arab world says it is. There is growing uneasiness about Imam Fiesal Abdul Rauf, main supporter of the facility, who is a possible radical suspected of blaming the US for 9-11, linked to funding terrorist activities abroad, who reportedly refuses to acknowledge Hamas as a terrorist group and has both ties to Islamic extremist organizations as well as believing in Islamic ideologies that promote infiltration into the West, America specifically, to in essence, replace our government system with one of Islamic law. His politics merit further investigation before anyone rubberstamps such a project; instead the U.S. state department is funding a mid- east trip to promote understanding of the Muslim world, where he is rumored to collect funds for the center even though he and the state department deny this. Another red flag is found in what this isn’t; it isn’t a group of local Muslims beseeching city officials to let them build a place of worship or a gathering place to serve people of their faith residing in or near the area. It is a well-known Muslim leader wanting to place a mosque practically around the corner from where extremists of his faith killed thousands of Americans.
Having a mosque, or what is viewed as a mosque, near ground zero also presents a safety concern; the city has already been the source of one major terrorist attack, terrorist like activities involving the former world trade center can be traced back to the early ’90’s, and the city has foiled many other assaults on various targets in recent history. A Muslim building of any sort sets off alarm bells particularly coming on the heels of thwarted plots to bomb the area’s subways, so soon after things like the Times Square bomber. Along those same lines people may be, should be cautious of how it will be viewed worldwide; no one wants to send the message that it is a safe haven for extremists, no one wants it to become a hotbed for homegrown terror. No one wants that brand of Islam; supporters insist that that will not be the case, but since when has self-regulation ever really regulated anything? Danger doesn’t just exist in terms of worldview, who may be allowed frequent the center, or what teachings and activities may come out of it, but could also become a perfect environment for violence, harassment against peaceful Muslim Americans mistaken for terrorists. Problems can, and likely will, be created for the people responsible for running the organization, keeping out persons with violent intentions, looking to recruit members, accomplices for radical activities and extremist agendas, especially in that location. Down the road, you have to think about changes in boards of directors or facility operators; it’s not just a case of what it is when it first opens, but what it could be in 5-10 years.
On a similar note much of the perceived bigotry towards this undertaking and by extension Muslims, is not bigotry at all but a response to what many see as both a threat to safety and a threat to their own religious faith. Such was the catalyst behind a Nashville community’s protest against an actual mosque next to a Christian church; “they are taking Christ out of everything,” one woman told a TV reporter. They see their faith as being over run, despite efforts to return religious heritage to parts of America, rights it’s own wrongs by replacing the 10 commandments in city and federal buildings, schools, return school prayer, keep the pledge of allegiance both intact and as a part of meetings and school days. While these efforts seem to stagnate, schools are enjoying a time of all inclusion, making room for every faith it seems but Christianity; they feel the foundations of their nation shifting under their feet and are wise to be active in preserving something of a current status quo. Why, because most Americans don’t want to find themselves in a predicament like orthodox Christians in Turkey surrounded by a 99% Muslim population, where the laws are dictated by Islam, where their Ecumenical Patriarch feels outnumbered, intimidated, even crucified unable to continue the traditions of his faith. Now before anyone tries to say the above is an argument about one religion, non religious Americans and even those practicing a particular faith, do not want to see their country dominated by one possibly two religions. Americans want to retain the freedom of many religious choices that is the secondary root of so much opposition.
Sheer numbers again play a part when taking into account the biggest opposition and the 1.5 billion Muslims spanning the globe; if as little as 1-10 percent of those individuals are extremists, radicals that’s millions of potential threats. Threats emanating from impoverished parts of the world where that alone can produce religious fanaticism, but to top it off, millions are born into countries advocating and/or supporting terrorism. Coming back to Imam Rauf’s purported choice of religious doctrine within Islam, even if it’s not his goal to usurp US law with Islamic law, even if his goal is far from any sort of corruption or destruction of America, we have seen too many examples of groups and individuals with that goal. The Massachusetts man who aimed to destroy targets across the globe, the Denver airport shuttle driver arrested for the same type of behavior are just two in a growing number of cases; equally disturbing is the fact that the Times Square bomber was a naturalized American citizen, not to mention the number of disillusioned Americans gravitating to radical Islam.
In that light how can opposition to a Muslim building, where they want to erect it, be seen as anything other than a common sense approach to safety, how can anyone call it bigotry and how can anyone let this building, this symbol, whatever name they chose to call it, happen? True America was founded on religious freedom, tolerance; also there are no doubt some bigots in America who oppose the idea based solely on that. However, bowing to public relations pressure in this case could be deadly, because, as demonstrated, Islam is not a peace-dominated faith. True Christianity does not have the purest of track records; yet the crusades are long over, the Spanish inquisition a part of history where it belongs, hate crimes against gays have been met with legislation; conversely, Islamic followers have perpetrated some of the most violet acts in the modern era. Christians do not blow themselves up in public places, Christians do not wage holy war on non believers; when Christians go into a country resistant to the faith, they do so at great personal risk and seek to bring some sort of freedom of religion to people there, adopting a take it or leave it approach with citizens
Likewise Americans, independent of religious affiliation, do not behead persons who do not believe a certain way, we do not stone adulterers, rape victims, we do not burn people for improper clothing or leave them in a burning building for the same reason, we exercise a level of humanity even to POW’s, enemy combatants, Abugaib was a mistake not a standard procedure. Yes we are against a mosque so close to ground zero, yes we are against the symbolism it creates, but it’s the why that’s important. Because we don’t want incidents like that coming with the peaceful people in addition to those content to practice their faith alongside others. We are trying to protect and preserve not only American life, human life but a heritage under possible threat of violence. Muslim leaders, Muslim citizens here and across the world should ask themselves this question what would you do?